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by Ruaraidh Gilmour
22 November 2022
Policymakers have little understanding of early years education, claims leading campaigner

UK school playground at breaktime | Credit: Alamy

Policymakers have little understanding of early years education, claims leading campaigner

Policymakers at both a national and local level have little understanding of early years education, a leading campaigner has claimed.

Speaking at Holyrood’s Education Festival in Edinburgh, Sue Palmer, chair of Upstart Scotland, told delegates that “most people throughout the system” understand very little about early learning education and the development of young children

Upstart Scotland is campaigning to raise the school starting age in Scotland and recently helped inspire a motion at the SNP conference, backed by party members, to introduce a statutory kindergarten phase.

Palmer told today’s event that children in Scotland begin school “stupidly early”.

She said: “My impression is that the policymakers in education, I do not say ELC (early learning and childcare), at both a national and a local level know very little, and so do most people throughout the system...  

“There are so many skills and capacities that children are programmed within their DNA to develop during early childhood. They underpin lifelong learning. And if we do not provide the support that they require, the sort of environments and relationships, particularly access to play. But unless we ensure they have access to this throughout their early childhood they will not be able to develop these skills and capacities. Some of them will have a better chance than others.”  

Palmer added that the United Nations states the holistic development of a child’s social, emotional, cognitive, and physical needs are required to build a broad and solid foundation for lifelong learning and well-being.  

She added: “I fear the fact that they start school at such an incredibly stupidly early age, thanks to a load of Victorian politicians. I point you to the UNCRC’s article 31, the right to play, that is what children should be doing.”

The reinstatement of the 1,140 hours of statutory early learning childcare was pointed out by Palmer as a step in the right direction but she noted that the lack of value on the people that are providing this type of education as being one of the remaining problems.  

She said: “After 20 years of looking into this and 30 years before that in primary, it is the most important part of the whole system. If you get that wrong, everything else goes. And although there has been more play introduced into primary one, they are still starting the three r's because we have standardised national assessments in reading, writing and arithmetic.”

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